Monday, June 10, 2024

How young black men learn that life is cheap

May 20, 2007 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

Crime | The tragic shooting of South Side honor student Blair Holt stems from ‘a combustible blend of cultural and racial baggage’

( Chicago – The senseless and heartbreaking murder of Blair Holt 10 days ago drew community rage and made headline news only because Holt was an exemplary honor student at Julian High School and, in keeping with the type of person he was, he died protecting another friend when the gunplay on the bus started. As a former South Side resident, I know that violence all too tragically claims the lives of far too many young black men such as Holt.

The other tragedy is that while black-on-black murders may be a non-story, black homicides fuel the nation’s murder surge. Last February, the Violence Policy Center reported that black murders are off the chart in many of America’s big cities. The Bureau of Justice Statistics in its report on homicides went one better and found that the black murder rate is many times higher than that of whites, or even Latinos. In fact, it’s the leading cause of death among black males age 16 to 34.

By contrast, among white men, murder drops to No. 5 after accidents, suicide, cancer and heart disease as a cause of death. More police, dozens of new prisons and tougher laws haven’t curbed black violence. And they won’t. Blacks don’t slaughter each other at such a terrifying rate because they are naturally violent or crime prone. They are not killing each other simply because they are poor and victimized by discrimination. Or because they are acting out the obscene and lewd violence they see and hear on TV, in films and in the gangster rap lyrics that blare on the streets.

Devalued black lives

The violence stems from a combustible blend of cultural and racial baggage many blacks carry. In the past, crimes committed by blacks against other blacks were often ignored or lightly punished. The implicit message is that black lives were expendable. Many studies confirm that the punishment blacks receive when the victim is white is far more severe than if the victim is black.

The perceived devaluation of black lives by discrimination encourages disrespect for the law and drives many blacks to internalize anger and displace aggression onto others that, of course, look like them. They have become especially adept at acting out their frustrations at white society’s denial of their “manhood” by adopting an exaggerated “tough guy” role. They swagger, boast, curse, fight and commit violent self-destructive acts.

The accessibility of drugs, and guns, and the influence of misogynist, violent-laced rap songs also reinforce the deep feeling among many youth that life is cheap and easy to take, and there will be minimal consequences for their action as long as their victims are other young blacks. And as long as the attackers regard their victims as weak, vulnerable and easy pickings they will continue to kill and maim with impunity.

The plague of gangs

The other powerful ingredient in the deadly mix of black-on-black violence is the gang plague, and the ease with which gang-bangers can get illegal guns. Gang members use their arsenals to fend off attacks, protect their profits from hostile predators and settle scores with rivals. The problem is that the Blair Holts are the ones who pay the price for these gang feuds when they get caught in the crossfire or are killed as a result of mistaken identity.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report traces the recent escalation in the black homicide rates to busted drug deals, competition over markets and disputes over turf. When innocent victims are caught in these shoot-outs, that fortifies the conviction of suburban whites that black neighborhoods are depraved war zones. The Violence Policy Center says that the answer is to get the guns off the streets. In other words, pass even more draconian gun control laws. That’s the favorite liberal reformers panacea to the murder plague. And while there are way too many guns on America’s streets, all the gun laws on the books alone won’t stop the killing of young men such as Blair Holt.

Poster boys of neglect

What’s an answer than? Black parents, churches and organizations such as the NAACP that are quick to storm the barricades against civil rights abuses must make stopping black violence a priority. They can do much more to provide positive and wholesome mentoring and role models for at-risk young blacks. That doesn’t mean cheerleading them when they buy $250 sneakers they don’t have the money for, turning a blind eye when they skip school or running with the wrong crowd. The alleged shooter of Holt, and the shooter’s alleged accomplice, are poster boy examples of that neglect.

In other words, they have to show by word and deed that the lives of at-risk young blacks count for something. Holt’s murder is yet another tragic warning that the flower of black youth is in mortal harm’s way. It’s time to do something about that.


Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!